Since July, our two interns Maider Haicaguerre, from France, and Eva Zanettini, from Italy, have been undertaking a focussed project using Obsalim with the dairy herd. Four eyes are better than two, and Maider and Eva have been observing the herd everyday, carrying out milk tests and using the Obsalim cards every week, and discussing and questioning everything they see all the time.
In just three months they have been able to pick up issues in the herd and address them though nutrition and management.
Maider and Eva’s work has helped all of us at Holy Goat become more attentive to the herd and the conditions on the farm as they impact upon the herd; we have all participated in the discussions around Obsalim and we have also seen a change in herd health, for the better.
I am doing the internship at Holy Goat as part of my University training in France, where I must study a question as part of my stay. Bruno arrived on the farm to run the Obsalim workshop on the same day that I arrived, so it was a good fit and I could assist with this project. With our first observation we noticed issues, but without being very sure. After about a month we became very confident and the milk tests confirmed what we were seeing.
We already observe the animals on the farm closely, but not so much as a herd and how they behave together as a herd. This is the first sign to look at; to recognise differences and changes in the herd over time. Having others who know the animals from before is also a plus. For example Tango, who wears a blue collar, is 8yo and one day we noticed her body and neck was covered in small red lumps. The other workers Tessa said she was like that 8 years ago, which helped give a history for us.
Maider and Eva’s main finding from their observations using Obsalim was that PhG area (see the earlier blog and page) was reactive – a sign that the rumen pH was dropping too quickly and causing rumen instability.
They introduced three main changes to the herd to balance the gut:
By adding bicarbonate of soda to the whey, we were able to increase the pH of the whey to neutral (pH7). Because of the lacto-ferment process, whey pH is 4.4, quite acid, and when we give that to the goats it causes a big dip in their rumen pH, leading to rumen instability. Bicarb is quite alkaline, so it will buffer the whey and therefore the rumen pH.
The other change has been to the feeding and milking schedule so that the goats are able to ruminate more naturally. Before, we would milk at 6am – the herd would arrive on the line and be fed concentrate on an empty stomach. Now we milk at 7am. We feed them hay at 6am before they come on to the line. They feel fuller, have more fibre in the gut and the rumen can manage the concentrates much better and so there is better rumen stability.
Before, our afternoon milking was at 2pm. The peak time for rumination is between 2 and 4pm, so we don’t want the herd to be eating when they would naturally be digesting. Now we milk around 3 -3.30pm. Maider and Eva bring the herd up from the paddock at 2pm so they can ruminate, not eat.
The third change was to reduce the level of concentrate fed to the herd, in response to the seasonal conditions, feed type and availability in the paddock. They have found that the goats are producing the same amount of milk, even with lesser concentrates, and the herd is in very good condition. The PhG symptoms have disappeared in the main part of the herd. all but a couple of the older goats.
Maider and Eva both agree that Obsalim does take a lot of time, and that implementing changes to adapt to the animal’s schedule (and its rumen) can mean that it is harder for the humans – it does ‘stretch the day’.
The most important thing for the farmer to see is a healthy herd and so the time spent is worth it. Because we are interns we work and live here, it is our passion and we are happy to spend the time. For employers it may be harder because time is limited and there are many jobs to do.
Both women say that working together was much more effective because they were able to share what they had each seen during the day and also to question other staff. Obsalim became a broader conversation – and observation – for the whole farm. Plus four eyes are always better than two!
We need to adapt to the goats and respect the cycle of the animal. But you are not just working with the goat, you are also working with millions of microorganism animals in the gut; it is the symbiosis of the goat and the rumen flora. Obsalim gave us each a pair of glasses and helped us how to read the body of the goat.
We will be sorry to say goodbye to Maider as she returns to France to finish her University studies. Maider hopes to work on other farms and then maybe come back to Holy Goat one day but for the time she will being continue at University and on her family sheep dairy.for another stint.
Eva has just headed south, to work at Bruny Island Cheese after she rides a bicycle along Tasmania’s cost to work at Bruny, where she will look after a smaller herd, 35 goats, and make cheese. She wishes also to return to Holy Goat.
Both interns have valued their time at the farm and say the Holy Goat environment is a very special place, full of ideas and great produce. In turn we have valued their energy, enthusiasm and dedicated hard work, not just in Obsalim, but in the life of the farm.